Gene Logsdon Blog – The Contrary Farmer

Gene Logsdon: Food Fads Affect Farming

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Perhaps no human activity, other than killing other humans, has a longer history than diet regulations that prohibit some foods and glorify others.  Even in the biblical garden of paradise there was forbidden fruit. And the reasoning behind forbidden fruit is always the same. Eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones means living longer, perhaps forever. Humans are always suckers for that pitch.

Just as the prohibition against meat on Fridays in the Catholic Church helped the fishing industry in medieval Italy, so the latest fad, the Paleo diet, should prove to be a boon to grass-fed chicken and livestock producers because Paleos are supposed to eat only meat raised on grazed pastures without, heaven forbid, grains. The Paleo philosophy believes that modern meats no longer have the nutritional value of the wild meat that prehistoric humans enjoyed. Modern meat has turned real, red blooded cavemen and cavewomen into pansies. Today the only easily obtainable meat that comes close to the wild meat of Paleolithic times is the grass-fed kind.

Gene Logsdon: The  Absence of Noise

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Ask me what I like best about our homestead and my first answer will be the absence of noise. Of course it’s not always quiet but there are blessedly silent hours, like now as I sit on the deck on a  warm October evening, gazing at the changing leaves, sipping bourbon and not wishing to be anywhere else or doing anything else in all the world. A neighbor has just finished combining the cornfield next to us and the harvester’s mighty engine is silent. There are no grain trucks thundering down the road. No airplanes cross the skies above, no trains rumble on the tracks just east of us, no one is mowing lawn in the neighborhood, no chainsaws at work in the woods. Peace.

An absence of noise does not mean there are no sounds in the air. Quite the opposite. Without the cacophony of technology numbing my ears, I can hear a bit of wind rustle in the trees, catch the peevish peep of a nuthatch questioning ownership of an acorn with another nuthatch, discern the whisper of hummingbird wings fluttering above my head, note a chicken up at the barn bragging about a just-laid egg, spot the squirrel that is scolding me from the nearby oak, listen to a gang of crows on the other side of the woods giving a hawk or an owl a hard time, wonder what two tree frogs croaking back and forth to each other from the trees are saying about possible rain tomorrow.

Gene Logsdon: Commenting On Your Comments

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I just must take time out from my regular postings to thank all of you for your extraordinary kindness, intelligence and good humor in responding to what I write. What you say makes better reading than what I say and I am so very grateful. When, for example, Tim, whom I have never met, recently mentioned [on Gene's blogsite here] specific stories that I wrote many, many moons ago, I was just flabbergasted— and touched. And then Beth Greenwood, after many very down to earth and practical observations about farming, starts quoting classic Latin sayings!  And I would almost bet that the wonderful poem Russ quotes and says is anonymous is something he wrote.  I do know him and he is quite capable of writing good poetry.

It never seemed to me that anyone was paying much attention to my scribblings over the years. I did get some really precious letters occasionally, mostly handwritten on lined paper— even Wendell Berry writes to me that way— but that very fact suggests that my readers are not part of anybody’s majority. I have chosen to write  mostly about how important farming is to everyone, both as science and art. That means I have the attention of only a small portion of the public. I would have had a much better chance of success if I had decided to write about sex culture or sports culture, not agriculture. Now, however, you responders have me wondering if perhaps the new interest in food and how to produce it without collapsing another civilization, might be on its way to become almost as popular as Lady Gaga and Lebron James.

Gene Logsdon: Practical Skills — A Home Cistern…

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
Excerpt from Practical Skills 1985

Where well water is not conveniently available in the country or is so hard that it rusts the plumbing out in only a few years, a cistern is not the old-fashioned impracticality most of us moderns believe. A neighbor, Gerald Frey, who is in the construction business, just finished building himself a new house. He equipped it with a large cistern — not difficult for him to do since he is one of the few builders I know who still builds cisterns commercially. “We don’t get too many calls anymore, except from members of our own family. We’ve all been brought up on cisterns and much prefer the taste of rainwater.

Although a good cistern costs as much as a well, Frey points out that from then on the savings are all on the side of the cistern: no water softener needed, no monthly charging with salt. The cistern pump is far cheaper to run than a well pump. Rainwater requires less soap to get a clean wash and glistening hair. Clothes are not stained yellowish as from hard water. And corrosion from rainwater is far less than from hard.

Gene Logsdon: Stay Home

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I am tempted to write a book titled “Stay Home and Save The World” or something to that effect, but I don’t know of any publisher crazy enough to take it on. Our whole culture is completely locked into travel mode and any idea of changing that would have no more success than trying to stop people from drinking beer. We think, live and breathe traveling. So much so, that some 40% of the CO2 we are churning into the environment comes from travel (so I read but I am wary of all numbers). Maybe we could reduce our CO2 emissions to safe levels just by staying home much of the time. But only we ramparts people are going to say that. Cutting travel to a significant degree might bring on another great depression. It’s as if we would give up our utilities before we’d give up extraneous travel.

I really don’t think it would be that difficult. I’d much rather stay home than go traveling and when I read the travel ads in newspapers and magazines, I am all the more convinced. Much of the jolly things the ads promise I have at home. The current Hilton Hotel ad says it all: “Feel At Home In Our Home.” Really? Why not just stay home and save the money.

Gene Logsdon: Auction Anguish

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I used to love to go to farm auctions. I always hoped to find a bargain that no one else recognized. There was nothing like spotting an old book that I knew was worth maybe $50, and then being able to buy it along with a box of ho-hum volumes, for a dollar. For awhile early in married life I even fantasized about making a living scouting out rare old books and selling them for a thousand percent profit. But lots of other people had the same idea, and rarely was I able to make any profit at all.  But it was fun trying.

Same thing with antiques at farm sales. I’d go to one hoping that no professional antique dealers would be there. It rarely happened. They always knew which of Grandmaw’s old dishes were worth twenty dollars and which were  worth twenty cents.

Gene Logsdon: Trivia That May Not Be So Trivial

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Almost every day I observe something on our homestead that is quite remarkable in a humble sort of way. I think maybe I should write about it but then  the big news of the day comes flooding in and I almost feel guilty that I find joy in these little things around me. I should be all hitched up in the nervous regions about how the world is falling apart.  But I am going to ignore the world’s apparent disintegration today for what could be more important events in the long run.

Trivia No. 1: We store potatoes over winter in a plastic bin sunk in the hillside of the backyard. Maybe three inches and the lid stick out above the ground. I went out to clean out the few old wrinkled spuds left over from last year to make way for the new crop. I was taken aback to find a potato plant, about six inches tall, growing out of the lid. Impossible. Carefully lifting the lid, I found a long potato vine had grown up from an old potato under the remnants of straw (we store the potatoes with alternate layers of straw) in the bottom of the bin. Somehow it spotted a hint of light above (can potato eyes see??), climbed up the side wall and squeezed through the edge of the lid and upwards into the sun. I was totally mystified, because the lip of the box is rounded and the lid fits down over that lip, watertight and, I thought, light tight. But then I remembered. I had drilled tiny holes around the edge of the box to allow for a bit of air circulation. That vine had snaked its way up to one of those holes, perhaps the only one that emitted light, and squirmed through. You can imagine what luck I’d have if I deliberately tried to grow potatoes that way.

Gene Logsdon: Wanted — A Farmer

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Reading “Help Wanted” sections  in local rural newspapers, I am moved to smiles or tears or both at one advertisement that appears more and more often these days. It goes like this: “Looking for a good, full time, all around farm assistant to drive modern farm equipment and trucks for all farm operations including planting, spraying and transporting crops. Must be self-motivated and willing to learn.  Must take responsibility for maintaining and repairing  equipment. Must be willing to work long hours and weekends during peak seasons. Wage based on experience.”

There is so much irony involved here. Let me count the ways.

Gene Logsdon: Pssst…. Wanna Invest In a 900,000 Acre Farm?

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

In the early 1970s, I left Marvin Grabacre within the pages of Farm Journal magazine just after he had, in the 21st century, bought out his last competitor who owned the other half of the U.S. farmland. Now he owned it all. Half of the U.S. had not been a large enough economic unit for a farming enterprise, he said. And he was already thinking about buying Japan, figuring he could sell off  Arizona and New Mexico to get the equity in his stock portfolio that he needed to attract that kind of investor money. Arizona and New Mexico would soon run out of water anyway, he figured, so why not get rid of them while the price was still high.

Gene Logsdon: How Many People Equals Too Many People? 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Agriculture’s most earnestly held article of faith is that if farmers can continue to increase production to meet the ever-rising demands of population growth, future food shortages and the upheavals that so often follow can be avoided. If you care to look at the situation from a somewhat different angle, the opposite is truer. The more food an agricultural system produces, the more it encourages population growth, and the more the population grows, the greater the chances that social stress, war, genocide and famine will follow. One would think that after elegantly feasting on good food, humans would just want to lean back, belch and enjoy their good fortune. Instead they haul off and procreate more people to join the feast.

I used to brandish Farmers of Forty Centuries as the ultimate last word in sustainable food production and the best answer to avoiding world hunger. I was wrong. That book describes farming in Asia in the early 1900s when more food was being produced  there per acre than anything the gene manipulators or the organic producers today have come close to imitating. All it did was keep population growing so that more food had to be produced. China, especially during its wars with Japan in the 1930s, suffered horrendous genocidal depopulation which in turn disrupted its highly refined and intricate garden-farming agriculture. Hunger followed genocide, did not precede it. North Africa, culminating in the destruction of Carthage, suffered the same kind of fate. It had developed a remarkably productive agriculture in what was mostly a somewhat desert-like environment. The success of that agriculture encouraged population increases that brought social instability, wars, and the collapse of its agriculture. Then came the decline of its civilization.

Gene Logsdon: Pseudo Cisterns To The Rescue

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From GENE LOGSDON

When I read about the resurgence of rain barrels going on these days, I think of them as part of the urban scene for some reason, not something popular out here where the corn grows tall. So I was more than a little surprised when our local Soil and Water Conservation District began selling them. Fifty bucks.  Here in my neighborhood, more people have farm ponds and cisterns than rain barrels, and those of us who do catch roof water in small amounts have managed to equip ourselves with barrels without, God forbid, spending money for one. If you can’t beg a free barrel, you just ain’t real country yet.

Actually, I would buy a rain barrel if I had to. We’ve always kept one or two  around the place, even back when we lived in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’ve  used them mainly so that I don’t have to carry water to the chickens. A barrel is certainly cheaper than a pipe line, well, cistern or pond. What I finally did in the suburbs so as to have water handy throughout winter, was to partially bury a galvanized steel stock tank of about 30 gallons behind the chicken coop and rabbit pens, a sort of cheap, tiny cistern with boards over it for a cover, and ran a length of roof guttering from the coop roof to the tank.

Gene Logsdon: Love and Hate In the Chicken Coop

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

We are in the process of moving our pullets in with the old hens. No big deal in this case since I am talking four pullets and three hens. The coop is about ten by twenty feet in size, plenty of room for seven chickens. The pullets since birth have lived on one side of a chicken wire fence that divides the coop, with the hens on the other side. All day, all night, since May, they have been able to watch each other closely, smell each other, listen to each other, even able to nuzzle or peck through the fence at each other if they wanted to. The chicks in fact preferred to huddle against the fence, as close to the hens as they could get when I came in the coop. The hens paid the chicks no mind whatsoever.

We all know what happens when you put a strange chicken in with your flock.  The resident birds will attack with a vengeance. I think it says in the bible that humans are the only creatures that will kill their own kind but chickens will too. And even after they have spent a couple months separated by only a flimsy wire fence, the dominant group still attacks the other mercilessly when they are put together. I usually introduce the two groups slowly and tentatively, by way of contact outdoors, where the pullets can escape their aggressors until the two groups get used to each other. In that situation, it always amazes me how the pullets go back into the coop at night with the hens.

Gene Logsdon: Farmers Learned Long Ago How To Handle The Weather 

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

I give Monopoly Farming credit for one thing: it knows what needs to be done to make agriculture as certain of profit as manufacturing can be. Control the weather. That at least would make it easier to sell stock in gigantic farm enterprises. And the kind of mentality that achieves success in manufacturing thinks it knows just how to do that. Turn Big Data loose on weather records so that crops can be planted precisely at the best time and place for profitable yields. All big business thinks it needs are minutely-detailed, computer-collated statistical records on every raindrop, every temperature degree, every whisper of wind, every vortex shift of every pole, every oscillation of every ocean ripple, every zig and zag of every jet stream. Then the farmer will know, unerringly, when and where to plant wheat in Russia, soybeans in Brazil, corn in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, etc. No more guesswork, no more risk. Data will rule. As all successful business people know,  it’s just a matter of having enough facts in your portfolio. The money will roll in. The world will be fed. Heaven will be now.

Gene Logsdon: The Democratization of Agriculture


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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

During the years I worked as a farm journalist, I moaned and groaned over the attitude of agricultural communicators toward the public. We were supposed to write exclusively for farmers, which was understandable, but the definition of “farmer” was limited to those who were good customers of big advertisers. Sheep ranchers, for example, could no longer get a subscription to Farm Journal because they didn’t buy enough farm equipment, something even the Wall Street Journal found amusing enough to editorialize about. If the magazine wanted to charge adverstising rates on the basis of a million subscribers, it had to show that those readers were buyers too, not just people interested in farming. So, perhaps for the first and last time in journalistic history, the magazine deleted thousands of subscribers. The readers who remained became a kind of exclusive club. One suggestion, to charge the “non-buying” group of subscribers more, was not deemed feasible.

This policy could and did backfire on farmers. Farm news written by knowledgeable farm journalists rarely made the evening news, so consumers rarely heard the farmer’s side of the story and so might be inclined to accept the half-truths perpetrated by hostile consumer groups as full truths.

Gene Logsdon: Old (Farm) Wives’ Tales

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

We are down to only three hens at the moment, thanks to foxes or coyotes exacting their yearly tribute, but we are still getting two eggs every day. One of the two recently was a small, yolkless egg. “Old wives” told me when I was a child that such an egg signals the end of a hen’s laying season until she molts and starts up again. But since that yolkless little egg, we have continued to  get two normal-size ones every day. One might argue, in defense of old wives’ tales, that the third hen started laying the minute she noticed that one of others had laid a small egg. But if something that outlandish could be true then, according to another old wives’ tale, that first egg she laid should have had a little dried blood smeared on the shell which was not the case.

There’s another mystery involved. I asked my sister, the one closest to me in age, if she had heard about this last egg-first egg morsel of folklore and she said no. How could she not have heard what I heard since we grew up together. Perhaps her memory is dimming quicker than mine, although I would not dare say that in her presence. So I ask all of you: have you heard this folklore? Did I just dream it up?

Gene Logsdon: Invasion of the Paranoids

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Have you been invaded yet? If not, brace yourself because you soon will be. There are so many enemies approaching from all directions that there is no escape. It is not proper for me to make fun of something that is not funny, but since I have been invaded too, maybe I can be forgiven. Currently, my favorite danger of the day is the Invasion of the Tumbleweeds. No, really. It did happen in Colorado and to the ranchers there it’s not a bit funny. I quote from an Associated Press story: “Mini-storms of tumbleweed have invaded the drouth-stricken prairie of southern Colorado, blocking rural roads and irrigation canals…”  I now sing one of my favorite songs with my fingers crossed: “Drifting along with the tum-ble-ling tum-ble-weeds… Cares of the past are behind, nowhere to go but I’ll find, just where the trail will wi-ind….”  Cares of the past are behind? No more. Today, the trail always winds back to more trouble.

Gene Logsdon: White Clover Might Be God In My Bible


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From GENE LOGSON
The Contrary Farmer

Or at least one of the heavenly angels. White clover brings salvation to the earth by drawing nitrogen from the air into its roots to replenish soil fertility. It lasts nearly forever without any human help, volunteers everywhere, provides nutritious forage  for bird and beast, honey for insect and human, and if you find a lucky four-leaved plant instead of the usual three-leaved version, you just might win the lottery. The accompanying photo is not particularly sensational, surely not photographically, but it shows something very interesting to a farmer, if you know the story behind it. The corn is the open-pollinated stuff I plant every year to keep this particular strain of Reid’s Yellow Dent up to date. (I started out forty years ago to grow the biggest ear of corn in the world and still have hopes.) It is the strip of white clover between the two strips of corn that I want to focus on. I did not plant it. It just came up all on its lonesome. Not a bad stand for being totally natural and independent of the manipulations of human ingenuity.

Gene Logsdon: Have You Seen A Skinny Farmer Lately?

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Last week when I was researching what a well-dressed farmer of the mid- twentieth century was wearing to work, I paged idly through my old Farm Quarterly magazines from the mid-1950s which, incidentally, I got from Bob Evans of fast food fame.  (He knew a really good farm magazine when he saw one. When he found out that I shared his views on this (and many other subjects) he gave me his collection of old issues.) With something of a shock, I noted that many of the farmers depicted candidly in the magazine were downright skinny. Not just the young ones, but the older ones too. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but the more copies of the magazine I riffled through, the more starkly apparent was the evidence: farmers, generally speaking, were noticeably thinner three fourths of a century ago.

Gene Logsdon: Sunbathing On The Tractor 

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From GENE LOGSDON

It seems to me that more than the usual number of young men are appearing in upscale fashion magazines stripped to the waist. Nudity can hardly prevail in the bodily attire business but I guess it works when said young men are standing next to  young women wearing the latest from Madison Avenue. But bare-chested men are not a new fashion trend. They  were quite common  on the farm even back  in my high testosterone years. The really avant-garde thing to do then was drive a tractor shirtless in the glaring sun all day. When fields were lined with brushy fencerows giving the tractor drivers some privacy from motorists passing on the roads, some females were known to do similarly. I once asked a professor at an agricultural college how he managed to get the female students to do all tedious weeding required in test plots. He shrugged. “We allow them to go bra-less.”

Oh how carefree and sexy it seemed to make us feel. The darker the tan, the better. Who needs  tanning salons. But as a result, various pre-cancer and cancerous skin blemishes are epidemic today and dermatology is a lucrative field of medicine.

Gene Logsdon: Hanging Out The Wash

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Several readers recently mentioned that they dried their laundry on a clothesline outdoors which reminded me that I had more to say on that subject than I wrote here a few years ago. It seems to me that drying wash out in the sun is one of the easiest ways to save on energy. It also carries its own reward because of how fresh and sweet sundried sheets smell when you crawl between them. We also dry clothes sometimes next to our wood-burning stove in winter which not only saves on electricity but puts much needed moisture into the air.

But as some of you intimated, not everyone likes outdoor clotheslines. In the subdivision where our daughter lives, they are verboten, which mystifies me no end. Do clothes fluttering in the wind really look ugly to some people? I think a Monday morning backyard of flapping sheets looks lovely and I remember how as children, we used them as sort of impromptu tents to play under until Mom would stop us.

Gene Logsdon: Food Farming As Artistic Endeavor


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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Commercial print book publishers are viewing the future with gloom while paradoxically the number of new book titles published yearly grows by leaps and bounds— over two million last year if the statistics can be believed. I doubt anyone really knows the exact number as self-published books flood the marketplace. At the same time, agribusiness experts are raising red flags all over the Chicago Board of Trade about the possibility that industrial farming is heading into a troubling decade even while local food market agriculture goes booming right along.

I wonder if both books and food are being affected by the same social forces. What is happening with book authoring— and with other artistic endeavors— is easy enough to see. Electronics has made it relatively cheap to produce and reproduce books, songs and paintings. Literally millions of people are willing to produce and promulgate their own art even if it doesn’t earn them a cent. All it takes to publish a book now is around three thousand dollars and the writer’s time. The payoff or profit comes not in monetary sales but in personal satisfaction. And as more and more people now have the education and revelation to realize that they have artistic talent, an amazing amount of good art is being created almost everywhere.

Gene Logsdon: Bird Manners

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From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer

Watching birds at the feeder outside the kitchen window is still our favorite pastime and continues to yield more information as the years go by. This spring we watched a drama unfold that I would not have believed if I had only read it somewhere. Our kitchen window faces out on a patch of woodland, and we can see, especially with binoculars, a number of nesting sites in the trees beyond the bird feeder.  One tree trunk cavity, about 20 feet high in an oak tree, has always been home to a pair of nuthatches. Last winter, two red squirrels took over the apartment and I was sure that would be the end of the nuthatches at that location. Even up into spring, we could watch them carrying what looked like nuts or acorns into their hole while I wrathfully muttered obscenities in their general direction.

The drama that then unfolded started in a tree close by. Red bellied woodpeckers took over a hole in that tree and ferociously guarded it when fox squirrels (of which we have a small army) approached. I always thought the squirrels won these encounters but not so. At the same time, a pair of nuthatches began to hop around the hole that the red squirrels had taken over. A week later, they were entering the hole and emerging with tufts of leaves and other debris in their beaks, which they would stick into the bark of the tree trunk above and below the hole. I have no idea what they were doing, but soon the squirrels were gone and the nuthatches back in business.

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